One of the perennial topics in these parts goes something like this: “I’ve signed up for a talent show. What should I do?”
Let me make a suggestion, under the rubric “everything old is new again.”
In Jean Hugard‘s Silken Sorcery (1937), the last chapter describes the Stillwell Silk Act. Here’s what Hugard says:
THE STILLWELL SILK ACT
The production of silks from a handkerchief ball after the manner adopted by George Stillwell, who was the first magician to present a complete silk act in vaudeville, is undoubtedly the most artistic method yet devised. Mr. Stillwell issued a pamphlet explaining his routine but this has long been out of print and is now almost unobtainable. I will devote my last chapter to an explanation of the act as I saw it presented by Mr. Stillwell himself. I am told that he joined the ranks of other great magicians in the Halls of Valhalla several years ago.
Thanks to the miracle of the Internet and on-line archives, that pamphlet that Hugard called “almost unobtainable” is easily obtained by anyone who cares to look for it. There one will discover the
Full and Complete
Exposé, and Explanation
Method of Working
HANDKERCHIEF MANIPULATION ACT
AS PRESENTED TO
Messrs. HAMLEY BROS, Ltd.,
by the Originator and Inventor,
Mr. GEORGE STILLWELL,
and performed by him
in all the principal Theatres and Music Hails
in U.S.A. and Europe.
In short: Stillwell, George. Stillwell’s Handkerchief Manipulation Act (Illustrated) Hamley Brothers, Ltd. 1902
The instruction in Stillwell’s original pamphlet is far clearer and more complete than Hugard’s synopsis, and includes notes on how to manufacture the various gimmicks and fakes needed. Hugard’s version is streamlined, and assumes the performer is wearing a three-piece suit. Stillwell’s original is fuller, and assumes the performer is wearing formal evening wear with a tailcoat.
If you need a fully worked-out act, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, I can think of none finer (and it isn’t one that everyone else is doing). I doubt that anyone has performed Stillwell’s routine in a century.
Here are some links to places where you can purchase some of the needed props (I have no financial stake in any of these, BTW):
Stillwell hank balls.
Silks (from Abbott’s)
Production Flag Staff
Other stuff you’ll need to look around, or go all arts-and-crafts.
This is how Hugard ended his chapter on the Stillwell Handkerchief Manipulation Act:
Stillwell’s act was successful, partly on account of its novelty, but mainly because he had woven the necessary moves for getting possession of the loads and disposing of the balls, etc., into a routine of natural movements.
That says it all.